Today’s gospel relates one among the occasions when the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus. No-one likes to pay taxes. However, it is acceptable when the taxes you pay are used for the good of your country. When they are used for other purposes, this would make the payment of taxes more unacceptable. This was the situation the Jews were being faced with. They paid taxes to the Romans, but the money was not used for the benefit of the Jews. The Romans’ first loyalty was to the Emperor; for the Jews, God was above the Emperor and his laws. For this reason, the Jews asked Jesus about the payment of taxes. It was a trick question. If Jesus replied that he agreed with the taxes paid to the Romans, he would displease the Jews, if he replied in the negative, he would displease the Romans and he would be telling the Jews to disobey the law. Yet Jesus was not caught in their trap. His reply to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” was not what they expected.
Jesus is reminding us of our two main responsibilities. When Jesus asks to see the coin, he shows the image on it, and through it he reminds us of our responsibility to do our duties as citizens of a country. On the other hand, we are all created in the image of God. So, I belong to God. My first loyalty goes to God. We are duty bound to obey state laws, unless these go against God’s law. When I look at others, I see the image of God in them too. We all belong to God. God is not a tyrant, like some state rulers. God is love. He is our father. Jesus showed us how we can serve God. He showed us how to give him what is his: through prayer and love of neighbour. God sent his son to guide us and show us how to obey his law. When our decisions and our way of life do not reflect Christian values, when the Commandments and the Beatitudes are not influencing our decisions, we are breaking God’s law.
In this episode, Jesus teaches us that we have several responsibilities, but the most important is our responsibility towards God’s will. No-one and nothing should come before him. Two laws guide us. The law of man and that of God. God’s law is always above the law of man.